HUMANISTIC EDUCATION 171
right to an honoured place in educational history depends rather
on the changes that came into school life under their auspices,
through the introduction of the humanities into the curriculum
and the initiation of a new system of school organization.
Concerning the first of these, it is to be noted that the Brethren
had in the first instance no special interest in humanistic studies.
With such men as Geert Groot and Thomas k Kempis, the main
concern was with morals and religion. But the openness of mind
which showed itself in the peculiar constitution of the brotherhood
made their successors ready to welcome new ideas and permit
their teachers (who were not necessarily members of the Order)
to adopt a curriculum of studies approximating to that which
found favour in the best Italian schools.
Even more important was the careful organization of school
work which was the second distinguishing feature of their schools.
Not only did they create a system of schools, but by business-
like regulation they impressed on them all a certain sameness
of spirit and method. There was nothing at all like this in Italy,
where each of the new humanistic schools was a law unto itself;
and the difference was significant. It really corresponded to the
difference between the autocratic government of the Italian
cities and the more democratic government of the northern
burghers, who had organized their cities as they organized their
commercial affairs. The schools of the Brethren, in fact, were
an indirect expression of the new conceptions of social life which
were coming into being in Northern Europe with the growth of
industrial centres, and which were destined in time to come to
revolutionize not merely education but every political institution.
The development of the schools along these lines was not the
work of any one man. It was rather the outgrowth of the whole
life of the communities in which they flourished. Nevertheless,
it owed a great deal to the practical genius of Alexander Hegius,
the great schoolmaster who was rector of the school at Deventer
from 1465 to 1498. Hegius was not in any way distinguished as
a scholar. It was not till the age of forty that he was led to a study
of the humanities by his friendship with the young Rudolph
Agricola of Friesland, one of the earliest of the schblars to bring
the new learning from Italy to the north. But once converted,
he set himself zealously to humanize the studies of the schooL
He attached a special importance to Greek, and introduced it